Recreate a Vanishing Ecosystem : The Eastern Vernal Pool

Picture of Recreate a Vanishing Ecosystem : The Eastern Vernal Pool
Although the best choice would be to not destroy our environment to begin with, it comes too late for the vernal pool. Vernal pools are seasonally flooded pockets of wetland that serve as breeding grounds for both obligate and facultative species. Most salamanders, toads and tree frogs rely on these seasonal pools for breeding because of the freedom they offer from predatory fish. Unfortunately, estimates are that >90% of all these habitats have been destroyed. Whatever small attempt we suburbanites make is worthwhile.
The Eastern part refers to pools found in woodlands east of the Rockies, vernal pools typical of Californai are a world unto themselves.

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Step 1: What We'll Need

A shallow wide container, ie. A cement mixing tub, a child's wading pool, etc. I chose a cement mixing tub based on longevity, I've used them for at least five years for hydroponics with no UV degradation.

A Shovel

A Level

Some small pavers

Stone (Optional)


Leaf mould


Step 2: Find A Place

Picture of Find  A Place
Start by locating a shady place for your pool, vernal pools are heterotrophic with the leaf mould feeding the ecosystem, shade also moderates temperature swings.

Lay out your container and sprinkle flour around it to mark where to dig. Excavated until the container sits in the hole just a little proud of the ground level, we want to avoid runoff from the lawn (with it's associated contaminates) from entering the pool. Level the pool in the hole and backfill with soil, firm the soil around the container being sure to keep an eye on the level.

Setting up the pool

Use the pavers to build steps out of the pool, we aren't building a toad trap here, and without the steps they won't be able to get out either as adults or juveniles. Now sprinkle an inch thick layer of leaf mould on the bottom, if you can collect this legally from a known pool, great, if not, just from under a tree is fine. Don't worry if it floats it will sink after a few days.

Add water

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jamob2 years ago
have a huge one in our backyard! snakes some turtles, lots and lots of frogs, ducks, even the occasional muskrat and i believe some flying squirrels ina large dead tree. Its really cool extremly overgrown and filled with algae though
Yeah.........................if its gonna attract snakes like that I'll pass :)
bosherston4 years ago
My kid goes pond dipping with school today. Ponds are the freshwater equivalent to rockpools in the fascination they hold. I'm going to make a wildlife pond this year. Thanks for the inspiration Animal.
We had a vernal pool in our back garden - a previous occupant of the house left a kids paddling pool half buried in the garden, it became a breeding ground for frogs and other wildlife... So we never moved it.
A good name5 years ago
Okay so I finally found a way to make this pond without plastic lining but i'm wondering if The pond can be in complete shade or if it needs significant sunlight.
Tool Using Animal (author)  A good name5 years ago
Most eastern vernal pools are shaded, western vernal pools in the sun, but anything is better than nothing.
Well I live in British Columbia, so west... I really just want to attract wildlife though.. I read about an interesting clay that expands when wet, and therefore won't allow water to seep through. I want to get some of it to make a pond like this, anything that will attract wildlife (I'm planning on putting it near a fence, under a really shady pine tree (also against the fence) and the rest of the sun is largely blocked by a hot tub... (we don't use the hot tub much at the moment but if the traffic would be an issue, please tell me) lastly, there are wildflowers on the other side, which grow extremely high, and would (I imagine) provide some nice areas for the frogs to loiter around in) Sorry about all the brackets, lol.
Tool Using Animal (author)  A good name5 years ago
I Guess by west i was thinking more california arizona kinda, British Columbia , that's pretty heavy tree cover isn't it, shade should be fine. It'll atract ildlife whereever, you'llget different species depending on where it's placed, newts and salamanders will probably appreiciate the shade.
Cool, thanks... I know that birds seem to like shallow running water a bit better... I would do that, but I'm not in the mood for motors or pumps or anything of that degree. Anyways, thanks for the help.
A good name5 years ago
Hey, I live in British Columbia, and I was wondering if it would work up here? (Fairly cold falls, winters, springs, with hot summers)
Tool Using Animal (author)  A good name5 years ago
I'm sure it would work fine, If you have prolonged periods below freezing you might want a container shaped such that it will be less likely top split from the ice (sloping sides).
How deep will it need to be? Will I see any tadpoles or anything?
And for that matter, how big?
Tool Using Animal (author)  A good name5 years ago
Bigger is always better, but at a minimum 6 inches deep, and about 2x2 foot. Yes you may see tadpoles, I do.
K, thanks for your help.
blizz866 years ago
lol was that cuban frog really a resident?? lol and the snake too?? loll did you know frogs dont mate?? the males squeeze the females chest to hips with their thumbs and make eggs squirt out ! loll
I saw on planet earth that frogs have buttsex... :|
bob.smitty6 years ago
really nice... i like the way you think (and work) i've created something similar quite by accident by leaving a cement mixing tub outside with a thick layer of sand on the bottom (left over from a casting experiment) it's now full of water and bugs and tadpoles. the only think i can take credit for, asides from procrastinating in putting all that away, is for dragging it closer to the sprinkler perimeter so it won't dry out.
Lightly6 years ago
Excellent. Thanks, in the past I have tried to leave a large saucer of water available to insects and others in my garden, this is an even better solution.
headphoned6 years ago
The town in which I live has no shortage of vernal pools. Something like 500+ of them, and because they're so eco-precious or whatever they're a right pain whenever anyone wants to build anything. Still, some of the life adapted to them is pretty cool.
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Hi Stix , Avoid the goldfish, they will eat tadpoles, I have a few in my larger pond and there are very few tadpoles, and in a pond goldfish will grow, mine are up to about ten inches right now, and they were little feeders when I got them. Don't worry about importing the animals, they will show up on their own in a short period of time. I live in the middle of suburbia and have not shortage of wildlife (at least the wildlife that can tolerate man) in my yard.
mikesty7 years ago
Mosquitoes much?
A wiggler(motor with thrashing wire) powered by a solar light much?
Interesting. Would you comment about the difference between the mosquitoes doughnuts vs. the wiggler?
Tool Using Animal (author)  Good Doctor7 years ago
I've never tried a wiggler, being in the shade the solar option is iffy, I prefer just to dip out some water occasionally and to drop in a chunk of doughnut if I see any larva. For example there are no larva in the sample below, so no doughnut for them. The depth is a consequence of the container chosen and also to facilitate drying out in the fall, I've seen plenty of evidence that the local treefrogs and toads would breed in that depth and went ahead and used a container I had on hand.
But... Aren't mosquito larva an important part of the ecosystem you're trying to recerate?
Tool Using Animal (author)  westfw7 years ago
Sacrifices must be made for the commonweal.
hahaha thats funny that you say that
a dognut or like some thing else??'
Though you could just position the hacked solar light, into somewhere with light, and just trail the wire to the pond. But even in relative shade still might be fine, since we do not need the motor to spin for the whole night. And best of all, its maintainable free, especially if you replace the battery with the newer Ultra Capacitors. (and a resistor for the motor)
Is the snake eating the frog for real? Is it your photo? It's incredible!
Yes and yes, Thanks!
Tool Using Animal (author) 7 years ago
Wanted to add that I've spotted predacious diving beetles and tadpoles already
Joyce7 years ago
Enjoyed the instructable. I have two small ponds one an old claw foot bath tub and one liner rescued and repaired. I just let my pools take care of themselves unless the water gets very low, but be aware that some tadpoles, pig frogs and bullfrogs are two that I know of, take up to two years to become frogs. I discovered this when cleaning debris from the pools one Spring and found I was pouring out very large tadpoles.
Good Doctor7 years ago
I have been considering this for a while, though my plans involved a much deeper pool, maybe 18+" deep, to facilitate plants. Is there a reason it's so shallow?
Make sure you check local regulations regarding ponds. In my area any body of water you place in your property deeper than 12" is classified the same way as a swimming pool. To keep small kids from sneaking into your backyard and drowning the local government might force you to construct a lockable fence and obtain a permit. Google " swimming pool regulations" and that will usually pull up the regulations.
Good grief! We don't have such rules over here. If we did, I'd be in deep trouble, having dug two ponds for a friend (she moved house), both over 3 feet deep. I don't agree that the pool will "do little" - if lots of people use them in neighbouring gardens, you effectively create a corridor along which critters can travel in relative comfort - the more people have these little stepping stones (paddling pools?), the more likely it is that dependent critters will thrive in enough numbers to make a local difference. My own pond is about 2 feet deep, about 5x4 feet in area. It has goldfish from the previous owner but two, and a steady population of around a dozen frogs that successfully spawn most years. Our neighbour gets a grass-snake in his garden, so I think that's why the frogs stay at around 10-12 in number.
Einarjon7 years ago
Amazing insect closeups in step 5. What kind of camera/lens are you using?
Tool Using Animal (author)  Einarjon7 years ago
it was a fuji finepix 5600 with a 55mm lens from a binoculars taped to the lens.
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